I welcome the hon. Lady to her place, and wish a happy new year to you, Mr Speaker, and to everyone in the House.
The business for the week commencing 16 January will include:
Monday 16 January—Second Reading of the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill.
Tuesday 17 January—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Online Safety Bill.
Wednesday 18 January—Remaining stages of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill.
Thursday 19 January—General debate on the imprisonment of Jagtar Singh Johal, followed by a general debate on Russian grand strategy. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 20 January—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 23 January includes:
Monday 23 January—All stages of the Northern Ireland Budget Bill.
Tuesday 24 January—Remaining stages of the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill (day 1).
Wednesday 25 January—Remaining stages of the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill (day 2).
Thursday 26 January—Business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 27 January—The House will not be sitting.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business and wish everyone across the House a very happy new year.
I apologise for the absence of the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), who is under the weather and, I am afraid to say, has lost her voice. As the Leader of the House will know, it is not often that my hon. Friend finds herself speechless—I put it down to all the times she has had to call out the Government’s failing legislative agenda over the past year. I know we all wish her well and look forward to cheering her on when she is back at the Dispatch Box next week, undoubtedly in full voice.
The Leader of the House has announced the next in her Government’s long line of unworkable and impractical Bills. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) rightly said, the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill does not actually make any mention of public safety. The Government are putting an intolerable burden on employers, unions and workers, and for what? To sweeten some of their own Back Benchers. The Transport Secretary does not think it will work and the Education Secretary has said she does not want it applied to teachers. In fact, the Government’s own impact assessment said that there is no need for minimum service levels in other sectors. If her own Cabinet colleagues do not support the Bill, how on earth does the Leader of the House expect the public to do so?
MPs must be able to scrutinise the Bill properly. We are already concerned about the Government’s lack of engagement with key stakeholders. Have they spoken to employers, unions or workers? I understand the Government have not even published their official consultation yet. Why not? What have they got to hide? They have said they will do so “in due course”. What does that mean? Can the Leader of the House tell us when the consultation will be published?
The Leader of the House has also scheduled the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. Its Henry VIII clauses represent a huge Government power grab from Parliament. Yet again, they think they can get away with swerving scrutiny. Under that legislation, MPs will have practically no powers to determine what legislation stays or goes. After the chaos the Government have caused in this House over past months and years, on what basis does the Leader of the House think it a good idea to leave it to a Minister’s whim to replace 2,400 pieces of legislation with next to no parliamentary scrutiny?
If the Government are set on pressing ahead, will the Leader of the House tell us how they plan to square the practical difficulties? The irresponsible cliff edge they have set—to remove thousands of laws by the end of this year—is creating yet more chaos and uncertainty for British businesses and people, and they could do without it. The Government have not left enough time to produce serious replacements for complex areas of regulation, including environmental protection, food safety, civil aviation codes, health and safety in the workplace, employment law, parental leave, product safety, biosecurity —the list goes on. Does the Leader of the House not think that those important issues deserve to be properly thought through?
We do not even have a full list of the regulations. The Government have introduced a dashboard which, I understand, may not even be complete, so when will they ensure that it is? Will they consider extending the sunset clauses beyond the end of this year so that MPs can give these laws the scrutiny they deserve? It is a real possibility that some will slip through the cracks and be scrapped by accident. The Government must get their act together.
New year, same Government swerving scrutiny—time for change.
I start by wishing the shadow Leader of the House a speedy recovery. She will be frustrated to have lost her voice. I wish her well and hope she is not feeling too bad.
I shall be charitable to the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), because I do not think she has understood what the strikes Bill is doing. In addition to the powers in the Bill, we will focus on three areas: two blue-light services, and rail. That is because unions have behaved responsibly in other areas, such as nursing, where agreements are in place. We will act where we have concerns about threat to life or huge disruption and misery for the general public, with devastating impacts on their lives. For example, some people are losing their job because they cannot consistently get to work. Labour’s London has had nearly 100 public transport strikes, which is unacceptable to the public.
The proposal is modest and proportionate, many other countries do similar, and it will not prevent people from taking strike action should they wish. It will protect the public from the worst impacts on their lives and wellbeing. To dismiss a sensible approach before seeing the legislation and before the consultation that will help us arrive at the safety levels is, frankly, putting dogma before duty to the public.
However, I live in hope of a U-turn, because there have been quite a few from Labour recently. This week, we learned that the Opposition have gone from placing education at the heart of what they do to having nothing to say on the matter, except on the tax status of schools. They said they would defend freedom of movement, but now they are not. They said they would nationalise rail, mail, energy and water, except they are not, but then they might. They said they would not use private sector providers for the NHS; now they would. They said they wanted patients at the heart of healthcare and no more NHS reorganisation, except they now plan to abolish GP practices: the largest possible NHS reorganisation. They said they would abolish tuition fees; now they would not. They said they would restore faith in politics, but then blocked Brexit and now oppose the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, which includes good scrutiny measures and, as the hon. Lady knows, flexibility on whether to push out each statutory instrument and on what areas are priorities for Government reform. They said they want local people in the driving seat, except that at every possible opportunity they want to take powers away from communities and give them to regional bodies.
The Leader of the Opposition said he did not want to get out the “big Government chequebook”, but Labour’s current spending commitments say otherwise, with £90 billion of uncosted spending plans. The Opposition say they want to clean up politics and that they are patriotic and on the side of hard-working families, yet some of their largest donors are also backing Just Stop Oil and one has been an agent of the Chinese state. They say that the unions’ demands are unaffordable, but join them on the picket line. So I live in hope that we might have another U-turn from the Opposition and that their position on this important strike legislation will change by Second Reading.
Happy new year, Mr Speaker. Over the past three years, the most hideous crime in my constituency has been the theft of catalytic converters, with gangs of thugs arriving at people’s properties and threatening those who own the cars with baseball bats or iron bars while stealing the catalytic converters. Over the Christmas period, we heard that only about 5% of those thefts have been solved. May we have a debate in Government time on action that can be taken to combat this heinous crime and to prevent the thugs who do it from profiting from their thefts?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important matter, which I know is a concern to many of his constituents. The next Question Time where he could raise it is Transport questions—Home Office questions are not until February—and I encourage him to raise it then.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and bliadhna mhath ùr to everyone. Goodness, where to start this week? Panicked draconian legislation trampling workers’ rights, news that £42 billion in unpaid tax is being lost each year to the UK Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Scotland’s claiming yesterday that there is no desire in Scotland to have membership of the EU, which will be news to the estimated 78% of my constituents who voted to remain.
Following questions on the new Westminster Accounts database, we learned that the Prime Minister supports transparency around political donations and outside interests, although oddly it did not seem high on his agenda when I asked him recently about the influence of opaquely funded think-tanks on Government policy. Nor did it seem high up the agenda of the previous three Prime Ministers when I asked them about meetings with bodies such as the infamous Cambridge Analytica, details of which mysteriously failed to appear on ministerial records.
The Prime Minister was asked whether companies that do not seem to exist should donate to MPs, in relation to hefty donations made to some Labour MPs. He must therefore have been very troubled by openDemocracy reports showing that obscure firms with no listed addresses bankrolled hordes of Tory red wall candidates in the last election. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether she supports calls for an inquiry into the donations system to root out secretive campaign finance from our politics and protect our democracy?
Lastly, I note that The Press and Journal yesterday ran an article quoting UK Government sources as saying that Cromarty firth would be one of the sites selected for freeport status, alongside the firth of Forth bid. I have checked with Scottish Government sources, who tell me they have not been consulted on this disclosure ahead of the formal announcement, which is expected on Friday. That is a pretty serious breach of trust when we consider that the Scottish and UK Governments were supposedly working together in partnership on those proposals. It was clearly leaked to the media in yet another pathetic attempt to steal a march on Scotland’s Government. Will the Leader of the House undertake to investigate who decided to bypass protocol in that way? It is no wonder the people of Scotland have so little confidence in Westminster Governments when such infantile games of spin are being played.
May I say happy new year to the hon. Lady? I admire her very much; she is plucky and brave and she has decided to press me on campaign finance. The SNP is asking questions about campaign finance, so let us start with the Scottish nationalists’ deciding to ignore other private sector firms and give support to bail out a smelting business—to the tune of £5 million per job retained, although they were not retained—that just happened to be a sponsor of the SNP’s party conference. There is so much more material, but I do not want to detain the House. I welcome any investigations into such financial matters.
I had hoped at the start of the new year that the Scottish nationalists might focus on the issues that are of concern to the Scottish people. I wonder what would happen if they focused on, for example, the tragic situation of addiction in Scotland, which currently has the largest number of drug-related deaths anywhere in Europe and the largest number of alcohol-related deaths anywhere in the UK. Imagine if they made it their mission to sort that out this year, instead of spending so much time—as they did in the first debate they held this year—on independence. Indeed, if that does not appeal to them, how about improving education; reducing the attainment gap, which they have widened; reducing waiting times at A&E departments, which are at record levels; cutting violent crime; or bringing forward their broadband roll-out to rural areas, some of which are having to wait until 2027?
It is my wish for the new year that the SNP starts to focus on those issues. Scotland needs it to.
Happy new year, Mr Speaker. Over Christmas, a 17-year-old boy purchased a two-foot zombie knife online and had it sent straight to his door. Had police officers not had the wherewithal to look for the packaging, they would have been unable to confiscate the knife because there were no violent images on the blade or the handle, as prescribed in the Offensive Weapons Act 2019. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the sale of such knives and the legislation that covers them, and join me in condemning the reckless retailers cashing in on crime by circumventing the law?
I thank my hon. Friend for her diligence in pointing out that loophole. I know that she was busy campaigning on this issue over the Christmas period. I suggest that the swiftest way to address the matter is to raise it at Home Office questions on 6 February, and I am sure that she will.
I wish you and Members across the House a very happy new year, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The Backbench Business Committee is very much open for business. We would welcome applications for debates in Westminster Hall which are normally on Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons, and applications for debates in the main Chamber which are also usually on Thursday afternoons. Applications for date-specific commemoration debates, particularly anniversaries and campaign days, are also welcome, but we ask that Members submit them well in advance so that we can get some planning in and notify the Leader of the House that those debates are coming up. A little note to make is that Thursday 26 January, which the Leader of the House mentioned would be for Backbench business, is the date we propose for the debate on Holocaust Memorial Day, which, of course, follows on 27 January.
Just over the border, in the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist), Orchard House Foods on the Team Valley trading estate, which employed many of my constituents, made its workforce of more than 250 people redundant just before Christmas. No workers have received any redundancy pay, and many have been left almost destitute at a very difficult time of the year. Can we have a statement from the Government on what they intend to do to protect workers from the cavalier actions of rogue employers such as Orchard House Foods?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his notice of the very important debate on Holocaust Memorial Day.
I am very sorry to hear about what has happened in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. Although there is no good time for that to happen, it is a pretty terrible thing for families to endure before Christmas in particular. If he is happy for me to do so, I will write to the relevant Minister and ask them to contact his office to see what can be done. It is quite wrong for people to be left in limbo like that.
Happy new year to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Unfortunately, many of my constituents have not had a happy new year, because we have experienced extensive flooding in parts of my constituency. Nith Inshore Rescue has come to the aid of many people, but in the course of its activities it lost one of its support vehicles. It has made an application to the Department for Transport’s rescue boat fund. Will the Leader of the House encourage the Secretary of State for Transport to bring forward an announcement about the allocation of that fund?
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that point. I am sure that the Secretary of State will have heard it, and I will make sure that he is aware of the matter, which is an immediate issue for my right hon. Friend’s constituents. I understand that the results of the next round of funding will be announced shortly. I encourage him to look at central funding and to ensure that the organisation has registered with the particular tool that pulls together all possible other sources of funding, but I will write to the Department and make sure that it knows that this is a very pressing matter for his constituents.
Following this morning’s shocking report from Citizens Advice that more and more people are being disconnected from their gas and electricity because they have been moved on to prepayment meters, often without their knowledge, and cannot afford to top them up, when will we have a statement from the Government about their intention to ban this practice so that our constituents do not lose their right to light and warmth?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising this important issue. It is one of a number of issues that have been identified both by the Government and by organisations such as the Centre for Social Justice in its work on what it calls the “poverty premium”—additional costs and obstacles that are causing people to be disproportionately impacted by the cost of living crisis. I shall certainly write to the relevant Department about the specific issue that he raises, and I think it would be a very well supported debate.
I wish the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), well and hope that she gets better soon. It is good that she has such an able deputy to step in. It is always good to have an able deputy.
I apologise to the Leader of the House, because I gave her notice of the question that I was going to ask but I am not now going to ask that question. This weekend, the Wellingborough, Rushden and Corby taskforce will be out on the streets talking to people about their concerns and delivering the 2023 listening survey. However, it is already clear that one of the major issues they are concerned about is the thousands of people coming across the channel illegally. They want to know when the Government are going to introduce further legislation. Could the Leader of the House tell us when that is going to happen? By the way, if she is free on Saturday, she is welcome to come along and join the taskforce.
I thank my hon. Friend. I reassure him that, even if it is a lone campaign, I am certainly up for having an able deputy, and there would be no more able deputy than him. I am not motivated solely by the fact that it would prevent him from asking business questions.
My hon. Friend raises one of the most pressing issues, which I think all Members of this House are concerned about. We have to stop this racket in human traffic. I can tell him that he will not have long to wait for a piece of legislation that will give us the powers we need to resolve the issue. The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have been working extremely hard on it, the Parliamentary Business and Legislation Cabinet Committee has had many meetings on the Bill, including this week, and my hon. Friend will not have long to wait for it.
May I wish everybody across the House a happy new year? I am so proud of my Bath constituents’ ties to Ukraine. Local fundraising meant that we were able to send 13 generators to the city of Oleksandriia—we received a moving message back from the Mayor of Oleksandriia this week—and we have welcomed 267 refugees into our local authority area with open arms. Unfortunately, Ukrainian refugees still face considerable bureaucratic difficulties. Registering their car in the UK and then reversing the process on their return to Ukraine is proving especially complex and costly. There are already car registration exemptions for overseas students and overseas workers on fixed contracts. Can we please have a statement from the relevant Minister in the Department for Transport on whether the exemption can be extended to Ukrainian refugees?
May I join the hon. Lady and thank all her constituents, and everyone across this country who is doing so much to support the brave fight of the Ukrainian people, including taking in refugees? People over the Christmas period will have been making extra efforts to have two Christmases in their households to ensure that the Orthodox calendar is acknowledged. I suggest, if she is content, that I write to the relevant Departments. At this point, with refugees usually having been here since May, there will be all sorts of issues coming up because they will be thinking about spending more time here perhaps than they did when they moved, including registering cars and so forth. I will write to her on that matter and see whether there is something we can do to scoop up all those issues, as well as the specifics she raises.
In my North Devon constituency, we have issues with legacy street furniture, such as public phone boxes. These phone boxes are no longer used by the majority of the public, so have become a hub for vandalism, drug taking and antisocial behaviour. Barnstaple is a recipient of the future high streets fund, and we are cleaning up our high street for businesses and residents. The state of these phone boxes has drawn multiple complaints. Despite that, the company that runs the phone boxes refuses to remove them. Does my right hon. Friend agree that local communities should have a say over their public spaces, and can she advise how I might secure their removal?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important matter, and I suggest that she also raises it on 26 January with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport directly. There are provisions for these boxes to be removed, and that should be straightforward. There is also an alternative, in that the community can buy them for £1 and convert them to another use. I shall certainly flag her concerns with the Secretary of State and ask her, if possible, to contact her office before 26 January.
Can we have a debate—[Laughter.] I just thought I would get that in sharpish. Can the Leader of the House give the Chamber some idea as to when we might see the White Paper on football governance? The Secretary of State said at the beginning of December that it was imminent. That was not very long ago, and I am not impugning the motives of the Secretary of State, but the Leader of the House knows as well as any of us how urgent this issue is, and many Members from all parts of the House have raised it. Can we see the White Paper in the near future?
May I start by thanking the hon. Gentleman for convening a meeting in Parliament this week and all the work he has done on the fan-led review? As a Pompey supporter and someone who saw through the community buy-out of that 200-year-old club, which would otherwise have been lost, I know how vital this issue is to many clubs. Many clubs are teetering on the brink as I speak. I will write to DCMS, ask it about the timetable and get it to contact the hon. Gentleman’s office.
My right hon. Friend knows about my bathing water quality campaign for the River Nidd in Knaresborough. Progress is being made, including securing the support of Yorkshire Water, but a point often raised is that rainwater run-off from farmland, which can include animal waste and pesticides, is a big factor affecting the quality of our waterways. It is a complex issue, and local farmers produce some of the highest quality food in our country, so can we have a debate to explore how the Government can support farmers in mitigating this issue?
Happy new year, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Salford Families in Need Meals Project is a charity I support in my constituency, ably led by Antony Edkins and Julie Larkinson with a team of volunteers. Every Wednesday, working with The Bread and Butter Thing, it distributes affordable food to around 70 families from a base at Barton Moss primary school in my constituency for the modest charge of £7.50 for three bags of food. Last year, the charity raised thousands of pounds so that we could distribute the food for free across four weeks around Christmas and new year. We then found that some families would struggle to pay for heating and cooking at Christmas, so we added £10 per household to help pay for energy. This is a serious issue. Projects such as ours and many others can distribute food to families who need it, but many can now not afford to cook the food. I ask the Leader of the House for a debate in Government time on how we can ensure that families still have the means to produce hot meals in the coldest months.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this very important matter. I pay tribute to that organisation and to the many similar organisations that do such fantastic work not just at this time of the year but all year round. She will know about the packages of support stood up by central Government and the funding we have given to local authorities to allow them to have a more tailored response in our constituencies. She will know how to apply for a debate, but I shall make sure the relevant Departments have heard what she has said today.
Happy new year, Madam Deputy Speaker. This morning, the report into antisemitism in the National Union of Students was published. It is a damning indictment of the failure by that organisation to tackle anti-Jewish racism. Will the Leader of the House urge the NUS to get its act together on this issue, and will she find time for a debate on antisemitism on our campuses?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important and timely matter. As someone who was a representative in the NUS, I know that this issue has plagued that organisation for many, many years. I hope that, having published the report, it will actually do something about it. I am sure that any debate applied for on this matter, whether through the Backbench Business Committee or other means, would be extremely well attended.
Over two years ago, my constituent, a single mother with two young children, was diagnosed with stage 4 terminal cancer. As a result, she subjected herself to punishing treatments to gain more time. Unfortunately, she has not yet been transferred to Social Security Scotland, whose policy is based on dignity, fairness and respect, so she was subjected to a reassessment for her personal independence payment claim, during which she felt she was having to justify why she was still alive. May we have a debate in Government time to discuss these really important issues for people right across the United Kingdom who are still subject to Department for Work and Pensions rules?
I am very sorry to hear about the experiences the hon. Lady’s constituent and her family have had. She will know that the Department has done a huge amount of work looking at a pathway for people who are terminally ill. There are campaigns at the moment on other asks for people who are terminally ill. We owe it to them and their families to constantly improve the systems they have to deal with. Many of these issues sit in Scotland, both on benefits and the interaction with social care, but if she gives my office the details of this lady’s case I will take it up this afternoon with the Department to see whether there is any further advice we can give her.
On 20 December last year, a young man in Ashfield, Sean Lynk, sadly took his own life. No one saw it coming, including his parents, Julie and Graham, who are obviously devastated, as are the rest of the community. Male suicide is now one of the biggest killers of men under 40. Graham has promised to dedicate the rest of life to his son and raise awareness of male suicide and suicide across the country. Does my right hon. Friend think it is a good idea to make time in this place for a debate on suicide to represent Sean, his family and all families who are affected by this epidemic?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important matter. I extend my sympathies, and I am sure the whole House would wish to as well, to Julie, Graham and all those affected by that tragic loss. It would be a very good topic for a debate. It is shocking that suicide is the largest killer of young men in this country. He may also wish to raise this issue at equalities questions on 25 January, because we do not tend to focus on matters that affect men.
As a beneficiary of early diagnosis of prostate cancer, it is pretty shocking to see today’s Prostate Cancer UK report showing the differences in when men get diagnosed with this disease in the UK: a third in Scotland are diagnosed too late for effective cure and a fifth in parts of England, but only one in eight in London. Can we have a statement from the Government on what they will do to tackle this postcode lottery, not least to give much clearer messages to men about the need to get themselves tested in an area in which contradictory signals are sometimes given about what is the right thing to do? That should be done in conjunction with the devolved Administrations, because this disease affects people right across the UK.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for helping to raise awareness of this matter. I also thank the BBC for the good work that it has been doing to raise awareness that people may experience no symptoms at all, so it is important that they go for regular screening. I was very shocked by the disparity, and particularly the figures in Scotland, as the hon. Gentleman said. One in three are diagnosed too late and the cancer has spread. We need to address that. I will write to the relevant Department to ensure that it has heard the House’s concerns.
On Monday, the Treasury announced the introduction of the new energy bills discount scheme to assist businesses, charities and the public sector. A substantial level of support will be provided to businesses in the sectors identified as being the most energy and trade intensive, such as the manufacturing industries. Can we have a statement from a Treasury Minister on that scheme? Leisure centres and public swimming pools such as Barnet Copthall in my constituency, which I visited in December, are facing significant financial challenges. It is not in the interests of public health for increased charges to be levied on people who are exercising.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. I completely agree that it is not in anyone’s interest—particularly given all that we are doing to keep people active and healthy—for charges to be hiked enormously for access to swimming pools and other facilities. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is looking at all these issues, including with other Departments, to see what we can do to future-proof such facilities, ensuring that they are the most energy efficient that they can be. I will flag up my hon. Friend’s concerns with the Departments involved.
Further to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), 600,000 people last year were put on to prepayment meters. It is expected that another 160,000 will be this winter. People in fuel poverty pay a premium for that, and every 10 seconds someone is cut off. A Government statement on prepayment meters is long overdue. Can we please have one urgently, because we need to scrutinise exactly what the Government are doing to protect the most vulnerable people from fuel poverty?
Further to the answer I gave a little while ago, I will certainly raise this with the Department. There are concerns not just about the practice of putting people on to those payment systems but about some of the billing by companies and the timeliness of Government support being passed on to those people. There is a raft of issues, which I will raise with the Department.
My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the concerns that were expressed across the House a few weeks ago about the curtailment of and changes to BBC local radio. Many of my constituents are concerned about the loss of local coverage on BBC Radio Humberside. Could the Leader of the House arrange for a statement by the appropriate Minister, so that we can hear the response of the BBC to the representations made in this House?
This is incredibly important. Local media is a vital lifeline; we saw that during the pandemic. It is critical to our national resilience and to our national democracy and our way of life in this country. I shall certainly make sure that the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has heard my hon. Friend’s concerns, which I know are shared by many Members. The next DCMS questions is on 26 January, and I encourage all Members who are concerned about this to raise it with the Secretary of State then.
Further to the questions from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), the report from Citizens Advice on prepayment meters is urgent. Since November 2021, the courts have allowed 370,000 forced entry warrants—that is 30,000 a month. These companies cannot possibly be doing the right checks on people before the warrants are being sought, and the courts certainly are not questioning them when issuing them—they are issued literally in seconds flat. Can we have a statement from the Government? Next week, the weather will turn freezing again, so this is very urgent indeed, because it is happening now. Some smart meters are switched off without people’s knowledge, and they only find out when their electricity goes off. We cannot allow this to happen.
Portsmouth is one of them, so I have a particular interest in this. As with all the issues that Members have raised, I will make sure that I speak to the Department this afternoon and ensure that it is aware of the House’s concerns and comes forward to update it.
Happy new year, Madam Deputy Speaker. Ecclesbourne School in my constituency is threatened with being forced by a Government Minister to join a multi-academy trust following a disappointing Ofsted report. My concern is that while MATs have been successful for some schools, there is no process for leaving a MAT if it does not work out and no democracy involved. Could we have a debate in Government time on the democratisation of the MAT system?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that. She will know that we have Education questions on Monday, and I urge her to raise it with the Secretary of State then. It is important that there are routes to leave a situation that is not working and, perhaps more importantly, that there is the right level of consultation before such agreements are entered into, to cause the least possible disruption to communities and, particularly, the education of children. I encourage her to raise it then, but I shall also raise it on her behalf with the Secretary of State.
With four prisons in close proximity to my constituency, a large proportion of my constituents are prison officers and members of the Prison Officers’ Association trade union. At the last Cabinet Office questions, I had a question about prison officer pensions transferred to the Ministry of Justice just before Question Time, only for the Ministry of Justice to say that it was the responsibility of Cabinet Office after all. I have since tabled written parliamentary questions asking who is in charge, but both Departments are pointing the finger at one another. Could the Leader of the House help to resolve this confusion and find out who is responsible for the pension age of prison officers, which, at 68, is far too late?
Many crimes are carried out in the heat of the moment or in a single lack of judgment. Fly-tipping is not one of them. It is a premeditated crime—no one fly-tips accidentally. It is an issue across the country, including, as you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, in Doncaster. Can we have a debate on fly-tipping, as I believe that minimum fines of £10,000 or immediate custodial sentences are the only way to bring this abhorrent practice to an end?
My hon. Friend raises an important matter. He will know that we introduced fixed penalty notices in 2016, which gave councils the means to take swift action, and we have introduced fixed penalties for householders who give their waste to people who then go on to fly-tip. We had DEFRA questions earlier, so I will write to the Department on his behalf to raise this issue and encourage it to get in touch with his office.
May we have a debate on the proposal by McGill’s Buses to withdraw the No. 52 Barrhead circular service? It is a lifeline service for so many people in the town, connecting communities to shops, community organisations, the library, doctors’ surgeries and so on. The timing of the withdrawal announcement was deeply disappointing and it lacked any details about why this important and well used service would be withdrawn. In addition, I have presented a parliamentary petition. Does the Leader of the House agree with me that the significant work done by Rena McGuire, a community activist, in securing about 600 signatures to date on that public petition is testament to the way people in Barrhead value this service, and McGill’s should listen and change its plans?
I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to her constituent, Rena, who has worked so hard to raise awareness of this important service. I think the answer she is seeking will be with her local authority, and I assume she has already got in contact with it. However, I will take some advice, and see if there are other things the hon. Lady can do to try to ensure that this service is maintained.
Since I was elected, Blackpool has received over £262 million of additional Government investment, and a huge amount of extra money has been spent on a variety of projects. However, being Blackpool, we always want more. That brings me to our £40 million levelling-up fund bid for a new multiversity skills complex, which will help provide the next generation with the jobs for the future. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on when we can expect either news or a ministerial statement on the levelling-up fund bids?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work he has done and on what he has managed to secure for his constituents. The bread and butter of an MP’s job is, yes, to scrutinise legislation, but it is also to ensure that we are getting new funding and new opportunities into our constituencies, and I know he has made a tangible practical difference to the quality of life of people in his patch. I will certainly raise his interest with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, but I know this is not the first time he will have campaigned on that bid, and I think decisions on that round of funding are imminent.
Can we have an urgent statement from either the Home Secretary or the Culture Secretary about the shifting focus of online harms to platforms that possibly fall outside the scope of the Online Safety Bill? I have been contacted by the parents of an 11-year-old girl in the Reddish part of my constituency, who was in effect groomed on Spotify. Fake accounts and playlists are being created by groomers, who are then communicating with children to encourage them to send explicit photographs of themselves. Thankfully, this was spotted by her parents, who are appalled, but what can we do, and can we have such a statement to ensure that Spotify and other streaming platforms cannot be abused by groomers?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important matter. Both for Governments and for parents, I am afraid this is all about continuing to be vigilant and having to adapt what we know to protect our households, and the Government are always going to have to be advancing and adapting the tools we have. He will know that DCMS questions are on 26 January, but I will also raise this matter with the Secretary of State and ask her team to get in touch with his office.
The Leader of the House will be aware that there is no post-16 education provision in the Bolsover constituency, so I am sure that she will join me in welcoming the bid for a free school from Redhill Academy Trust, which runs The Bolsover School. She knows that I have a great passion for ensuring that all young people can fulfil their potential, so may we have a debate on the importance of the free schools programme in filling the gaps in our education system, and ensuring that all young people can fulfil their potential, particularly in Bolsover?
My hon. Friend provides another example of the difference that Members of Parliament can make, and the massive difference that that new opportunity would make to children in his constituency is evident. Since we have been in government, 10% more schools are now rated good or outstanding, with a wider variety of educational choice. I think that is incredibly important, and I will certainly encourage the Department for Education to consider my hon. Friend’s bid, and stay in touch with him regarding when that might be announced.
Dylan Gibson is a young professional teacher in my constituency, but sadly he has lost his sight due to illness. He is desperate to remain in employment, and his employer is being terribly supportive in that. The issue is that he has no means to access work; he does not have the means to get there. Mr Gibson has applied to the Department for Work and Pensions for the access to work grant, but he has been informed that he will have to wait possibly more than 20 weeks to get it, because the Department is prioritising people who are outside employment, who can get assessments within two weeks. That is pretty unfair. Will the Leader of the House consider holding a debate in the House, so that we can debate the issue and come to some sort of resolution, and so that people such as Dylan Gibson do not suffer as a consequence of a failure of the system, and the Government can give the support that people need?
That is a shocking story. There should be no legislative reason why the hon. Gentleman’s constituent should not have that help. The access to work scheme, which unusually is something that Members across the House think is good, has a good track record of being there, able to be utilised when an individual needs it. We want teachers to be able to teach, and I am sure the Secretary of State would also wish that. If the hon. Gentleman gives my office the details of that case, I will take it up with the Department this afternoon.
Just before the Christmas recess, my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) secured an excellent Westminster Hall debate to discuss the Mayor of London’s appalling plan to expand the ultra-low emission zone to outer London. That will do nothing to improve air quality, and it will be economically disastrous for poorer people in outer London constituencies such as Orpington, and for those living outside Greater London. It is simply a cash grab, the Mayor has no mandate to do it, and it is overwhelmingly opposed by people in outer London. Will my right hon. Friend encourage colleagues across Government to consider withholding funds from Transport for London until the Mayor decides to withdraw that insane plan, and may we have a related debate in Government time?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. Whatever the merits or otherwise of setting up such a scheme, to do it at a time when businesses are recovering from a pandemic—this obviously affects not only businesses in London, but also those in surrounding areas, with tradesmen and others who will be coming in for materials or to do jobs, and I know it has had a hugely detrimental impact on many firms. I will raise the issue with the Secretary of State, but I encourage my hon. Friend also to raise it at Transport questions on 19 January.
I wonder whether the Leader of the House would consider giving time to a problem that affects many families in my constituency—indeed, in every constituency in the country—but which we have no way of gauging or recording, so we do not know its scale. On the death of a parent, we do not record at any point that there may be a child who is grieving.
I know from personal experience and from my sister’s experience that, no matter how stable the family, how supportive the family network and support system or how well the child appears to be coping with that grief, they may need support. Winston’s Wish tells me that there is no way of knowing how many children are bereaved at the moment. It would be simple to resolve that if, along with every death, we recorded whether there were dependent children. They will need support. It is not something that goes away with growing up, and they will need the most support at the point at which they are bereaved. Could we find time in the House to consider a way of ensuring that we know where these children are? If they have not previously been in touch with social services, we have no way of ensuring that they get the help they need.
The hon. Lady raises a very good idea. I know that other Members of the House have been campaigning on ensuring that people in general have more support and that, whether it is the state or those wonderful organisations in the third sector who support families, we can really tailor support to those people. I encourage her to raise it directly with Ministers, but I will also ensure that they hear what she has said.
Access to dentistry continues to be a huge problem for people across Stockton South. Many of us have heard the horror stories of people living on painkillers and undergoing DIY fillings and even DIY extractions. Will my right hon. Friend grant a debate on access to dentistry so that we can have an update on what the Government are doing to ensure that people in Stockton South can access a dentist?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue. We spend about £3 billion on these services every year. Of course, at the start of last year we had an uplift in funding to help cope with the backlog and with getting more people access to a dentist. He will know that this depends a great deal on local commissioners using the flexibility that they have, and a debate would be an excellent way to compare performance in different areas. I encourage him to apply for one and to raise that with the Department of Health and Social Care on 24 January.
My best wishes to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to everyone in the House for 2023. I know that, like me, Mr Speaker is a keen cricket fan. In my constituency we are lucky to have several excellent cricket clubs, including Offerton cricket club, which dates back to 1921, Heaton Mersey cricket club, founded in 1879, and Heaton Mersey Village cricket club. As we approach the cricket season, which is starting in just a few months, I know that so many more people could be budding cricketers, yet sadly even before the pandemic the number of people participating in grassroots cricket was falling. As such, will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time on investment in grassroots cricket in Stockport and across England?
I wish the hon. Gentleman a happy new year too. He will know that, earlier this week, we had a debate on community sport and school sport, where I think many Members took the opportunity to discuss those issues. If there is further appetite, he knows how to apply for a debate, whether through the Backbench Business Committee or an Adjournment debate.
At the last estimates from Independent Age, some £5 million in pension credit was not being claimed annually by my Ogmore constituents. At the end of the month, working with Citizens Advice Cymru, I am hosting a pension credit advice day, contacting pensioners and asking them to ensure that they get what they are entitled to. In that vein, will the Leader of the House make time for a debate—or can we have a Work and Pensions Minister make a statement, either written or at the Dispatch Box—on what more Ministers can do to ensure that pension credit take-up is improved? It remains the form of benefit with the lowest take-up that is related to the elderly.
The hon. Gentleman will know that the Department takes the matter very seriously and has produced materials and support for Members of Parliament to raise awareness in their constituency. Many Members have taken that up, which has helped to increase the numbers of people who can get access to and make use of the money to which they are entitled. We are always looking at new ways to do that better; if the hon. Gentleman has any feedback for the Department, I know that it will want to hear it. I shall certainly raise the matter with the ministerial team to see whether there are other things that they can do.
I echo the calls for a Minister to come to the House and outline more steps that can be taken to help our constituents to keep warm this winter. Over Christmas, through the Warm this Winter campaign and the Parents for Future campaign, I received cards from young people in Glasgow North with heartbreaking stories about what life is like in cold, damp homes. It should not have to be like this. There is so much more that the Government can do to reduce prices and improve insulation. When will we have a debate on all these issues?
I shall certainly raise the matter with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The hon. Gentleman will know about the generous support package to help with household costs, but so many of these things are best designed at a local level to ensure that we are reaching people who might otherwise fall through the cracks. A huge amount of support is provided both by the state and by third sector organisations, but as he knows, part of the problem is making sure that everyone who needs that support is aware of it and able to access it.
We are rapidly approaching the middle of January and what is popularly known as “Blue Monday”. “Blue Monday” has not been proved to be a thing, but it gives us an opportunity to talk about how people are feeling and to talk to one another with the aim of preventing suicide and ending loneliness. May I encourage the Leader of the House and other Members to come to our Brew Monday Portcullis House drop-in with the Samaritans on Monday? May I ask for a debate in Government time on the national suicide prevention strategy? That is just one element, so we need to look at the whole issue.
I thank the hon. Lady for her work with the Samaritans and other organisations to raise awareness of this very real phenomenon, which understandably occurs as Christmas credit card bills come in and all sorts of other things exacerbate people’s usual anxieties. It is really important that we acknowledge that and signpost people towards support, so I thank her for doing so. This is an incredibly important issue, which is why we have a national suicide prevention strategy. I shall certainly make sure that the Department has heard her interest in the matter, and I shall ask the ministerial team to get in touch with her office.
In October, the energy bills support scheme to help with the soaring cost of energy was announced to much fanfare. As we speak, the Government are preparing to wind down the scheme from 1 April, but my North Ayrshire and Arran constituents who happen to live in park homes, be off grid or have no direct energy supplier still have no idea when they will receive any support with their energy bills. It is causing real hardship, so will the Leader of the House make a statement giving a timetable for when that much-needed support will finally be made available to people in those categories?
When we had that extremely cold weather just before Christmas, I was inundated with messages from constituents. They were contacting me because they could not speak to a human being at the organisations responsible for dealing with their emergencies. It was not just one sector; it was housing, water and energy. My constituents were often confronted with phone lines that no one was answering or directed to websites with chatbots that could only take very basic information. It felt as if the whole country was falling apart, frankly.
We are talking about people who are very vulnerable, sometimes elderly and often unable to access the internet. A whole range of services simply are not set up to deal with these situations. We need a much better system to ensure that those who are most vulnerable can speak to a human being, get information across about the emergency they face and make sure that someone deals with it. Can we please have a debate about ensuring that these customer-facing organisations are in a much better place to deal with these situations?
The hon. Gentleman has raised an extremely important issue, and I think a debate on it would be very well attended. I also think his experiences will be of value to the national resilience teams, which want to ensure that everyone is using good practice. If he writes to either the Cabinet Office or my office with some of his feedback and suggestions, I shall ensure that they are looked at seriously.
Happy new year, Madam Deputy Speaker.
As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on liver disease and liver cancer, I am pleased to be able to draw the House’s attention to a British Liver Trust FibroScan event in Portcullis House next Tuesday to raise awareness of liver disease. Will the Leader of the House join me in encouraging all Members to attend this important free event, and perhaps make time to drop by herself?
As Iran continues its brutal and oppressive crackdown on protesters, there are also increasing pressures on religious minorities. In December two Baha’i women, Mahvash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi, regarded as symbols of resilience in Iran after spending 10 years in prison, were sentenced to a second 10-year term of imprisonment. Will the Leader of the House join me, and other Members, in issuing a statement of solidarity with Mahvash, Fariba, and others who have been unjustly imprisoned by this despotic Iranian regime?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for continuing to raise the plight of the incredibly brave people who are standing up to the Iranian regime. This is about having no due legal process, about appalling prison sentences handed out repeatedly, and, most tragically, about executions of young people who just want the freedoms that we all enjoy.
The House takes this matter extremely seriously, and indeed the next business today will be a debate shining a spotlight on it. I know that all Members will never turn their eyes away from what is happening in Iran. We will keep looking, and we will keep doing everything we can—from the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister down—to ensure that those people are supported and their courage does not go unnoticed.